Theatre in Wales

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Autumn Theatre Book- Lively Compendium of Theatre Memories

Theatre Director Book

Nick Hern , Nick Hern Books , October 11, 2013
Theatre Director Book by Nick Hern Nick Hern has been his own publisher of books on theatre for twenty-five years. In celebration he has invited authors whom he has published to submit a piece entitled “My First Play”. No other criterion or qualification has been asked for. Nick Hern’s own essay goes back to the year 1960. A schoolboy with a pantomime job at the now Churchill Theatre he trains a spotlight on a lead singing “Moon River.” That woman on stage and that ballad make “the moment I fell irretrievably in love with theatre”.

“My First Play” inevitably hits many points of theatre history. The chronology at the end of the book is itself a journey through history from the first book “Mrs Klein” to the first app release in 2013. Although not stated Steven Jeffreys’ “Valued Friends”, theatre’s best play on the razzy 1980’s, had a cast that included the young Jane Horrocks, Martin Clunes, Tim McInnerny and Peter Capaldi.

Nick Hern himself is at the Royal Court to see John Dexter directing a Wesker premiere. Dominic Cooke directs Louise Page’s “Tissue” in a university chaplaincy with a student Ruth Jones. The writers give testimony to theatre’s sheer power of presence. Ella Hickson sees a production of Ron Hutchison’s explosive “Rat in the Skull”. At age thirteen she has had small idea of the cast. A search a couple of decades on reveals Roche to have been played by an actor with a handful of a name, a young Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mike Alfreds is knocked out by “Oh! What a Lovely War”. Birmingham teenager Kevin Elyot is in Stratford to see David Warner’s sixties “Hamlet”- “long-haired and lanky…swathed in a long woollen scarf.” In Scotland “the Cheviot, the Stag, the Cheviot and the Black, Black Oil” does the same for Chris Hannan and John Byrne’s “the Slab Boys” for Liz Lochhead. Theatre from Wales does not appear.

Theatre is live event. Ali Taylor is at “the Weir” on the day of the death of Sarah Kane and the director steps on stage to impart the news. Vivienne Franzman is “floored by a production of “Bent” in my late teens. I found it unberarably moving.” I have read, but not seen, Martin Sherman’s scene with the two prisoners tied to stakes. I have heard it described as it is on stage, and the reading is nothing.

Amanda Whittington discovers the catalyst to her own writing in Sheila Delaney. Jack Thorne writes his first work because a forty-five pound royalty for a script is too great a sum to afford.

Intriguing bits of autobiography pop up throughout. That austere figure David Edgar becomes a four-year reduced to wailing terror at a performance of “Beauty and the Beast”. Jonathan Lichtenstein’s description of his drift from childhood to farm labourer in the area of the River Ithon is extraordinary. There are hints of the pre-tech age. Stephen Jeffreys’ description of physically producing fifteen copies of a sixty-page script has to be read in its original to appreciate “playwriting as an act of faith.” Andrew Bovell writes a moving account about his father, how “the writer of the play was not the son my father knew.” The words his father eventually comes out with are “I think you might have something…with this writing caper.”

The roll of names is awesome- Brenton, Callow, Churchill onward. Sixty-six authors- playwrights, directors, actors- provide contributions to this sparkle of a rattlebag. All royalties are to be donated to the Theatre Section of the Writers’ Guild. A better, more cheering winter-blues-dispeller cannot be imagined.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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